Local versus global for remote control of analytical instruments

Which is the best, a freely available software for remote connection or a proprietary system based on a central database?
It’s all working nicely, but how can you rely on the performance of your analytical instruments over time, especially if they are not located next to your desk and there are several of them to handle? 

In answer to this everyday question, many have begun exploiting freely available software to gain remote access to their instruments. After all, you can hook up to the units, monitor results and do remote control – easy? Well, according to James McCallum, network support specialist at FOSS, remote access software does indeed provide an effective hook-up. 

But on the other hand, any actions performed on this basis will be done on a local basis, one-to-one.  You may have saved yourself a walk across the production plant, a two hour drive or even a flight ticket, but the work you have done is still essentially local to that particular instrument unit. 

The database approach
In comparison, a networking solution that is centered around a database offers a completely different approach. “If I am based here in Denmark and connect to an instrument in Spain and make a calibration update to that one instrument it is local to that instrument,” explains McCallum. “But if I make a change using the Mosaic database software, it goes down to the database first and then out to the instrument. So the change is made in a central place rather than locally. You don’t need to connect to each individual instrument and repeat the task. In Mosaic you can make that change available to instruments all over the world”.

This ‘do it once’ approach is great for getting a number of instruments to all work exactly the same. “If you have a group of 50 instruments, you can ensure that each one has exactly the same calibrations, that each one gives exactly the same results across the board,” says McCallum. 

He describes, how Mosaic also helps to make data freely available. For instance, if a manager in the USA wants to look into the performance of an instrument in Brazil, she does not need to think about time differences and language barriers or having to make sure that an operator is at the other end of the line to pull out results and send them. Instead, she can just log on to her Mosaic client and go to the instrument concerned to get a record of all the test results. She can see all the samples, make reports, export the results and so on. 

“If I make a change using the Mosaic database software, it goes down to the database first and then out to the instrument. So the change is made in a central place rather than locally. You don’t need to connect to each individual instrument and repeat the task.”

This scenario is what McCallum calls proper remote configuration and management. “You don’t have to worry about having someone sitting at a PC in another country speaking a foreign language,” he says. “Even if a manager is sitting in Hong Kong he knows that his instruments at a site in Indonesia are up to date and working properly.


Three advantages of a database-based system 
Part of the problem when talking about the Mosaic software is that there are so many things to cover.

When pressed to pick just three things, the first that comes to mind for McCallum is the ability to set up new instruments. “You can install new instruments very quickly because you have already got that configuration in Mosaic,” he says. “You can do the configuration once and push it out to as many instruments as you like.” 

It is the same principle with calibration management and or slope/intercept adjustments where an update can be made once and implemented on multiple instruments simultaneously. This is an essential ability when standardizing a group of instruments against a master, for instance in business areas such as grain receival where a large number of instruments are involved and are spread across a broad geographic area. 

Another important aspect is to do with data safety. With Mosaic, instruments are put on the central database so if something happens locally, the data is still available. McCallum says: “If the data is local and the computer system crashes, all sample and calibration data are lost. They would need to re-do all their samples, for example. But with Mosaic there is a snychronisation about once or twice a day or even every hour. If there is a crash, it is just a case of reinstalling the software and synchronizing with Mosaic. You maybe only lose an hour’s worth of data.” Some of the many other features and functions include report templates, reporting, remote software upgrades and trouble-shooting. 

Is it worth investing in a database software?
For those needing actual remote management of analytical instruments rather than a simple remote connection, the datacentric aspect of Mosaic obviously packs a heavier punch than freely available virtual computing packages. It makes managing instruments a whole lot easier while also ensuring that your test data is safe and sound.

For the larger players, the Mosaic software offers a powerful tool based around their own server system allowing a few experts to support a lot of operators out in the company plants.

The database approach is also great  for smaller companies, not least because it gives piece of mind. “For the small guy with just one or two instruments and who knows nothing about computer or analytical technology, I think it is a fantastic tool,” says McCallum. “He can call us and we can do everything remotely, from upgrades to problem solving to keeping data safe.”

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